Singapore sees return to growth in 2021 on global recovery

Singapore sees return to growth in 2021 on global recovery

A ship docks at Keppel terminal in Singapore Nov 17, 2020. (Reuters photo)
A ship docks at Keppel terminal in Singapore Nov 17, 2020. (Reuters photo)

Singapore said its economy will probably expand 4% to 6% next year amid a global recovery from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic and as travel restrictions and local safety measures are eased.

The city-state also narrowed its forecast for this year’s contraction, the Ministry of Trade and Industry said in a statement Monday, highlighting an improved outlook for manufacturing, driven primarily by electronics.

“On balance, given the improved growth outlook for key external economies, as well as a further easing of global travel restrictions and domestic public health measures that is expected in the year ahead, the Singapore economy is projected to return to growth in 2021,” MTI said.

Singapore’s revised forecast comes as recent breakthroughs in vaccine developments raise hopes the pandemic can be contained. Risks remain though, including fresh lockdown measures and premature withdrawal of policy support. Easing travel restrictions also won’t be straightforward, most recently seen as rising virus cases in Hong Kong delayed the start of a much-anticipated travel bubble between the two Asian financial hubs.

“The bigger picture is dependent on the vaccine progress and how the recent global resurgence will hurt external demand and prospects for re-opening of international borders,” said Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp in Singapore. “Domestically-oriented services remain held at ransom by the Covid developments for now.”

Singapore’s dollar was steady after the economic forecasts were published, trading 0.1% higher at 1.3422 against the greenback as at 9.35am local time.

“We don’t expect much further progress to be made in 4Q, reflecting still firm social distancing measures to keep Covid-19 under control,” said Tamara Mast Henderson, an Asean economist. “We also don’t anticipate a return to positive growth until 2Q 2021, when the base effect becomes more supportive. A full recovery for this transport hub will require the normalisation of global travel and trade, which is unlikely before 2022.”

Singapore’s recovery depends greatly on factors outside its control, including the evolving US-China relationship, recurring waves of virus infection, and vaccine developments, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said in a briefing after the release.

“The path forward lies in greater interdependence, rather than independence or autarky,” he said of relations between the world’s two largest economies. “We do not yet know how the new US administration will approach its relations with China. But we hope both sides will dial down tensions, and return to a more open and inclusive global economic order.”

‘Support Impulse’

Chan also cautioned that the excitement over vaccine developments recently might be misplaced, as “it will not be the quick fix that many expect it to be” with the manufacturing, distribution and application taking “many months, if not years.”

Edward Robinson, deputy managing director and chief economist at the Monetary Authority of Singapore, said monetary policy remains appropriate at this time, and that he expected the MAS would meet again as scheduled in April.

“There’s a continuing support impulse” from monetary and fiscal policy flowing through the economy, he said.

Revised Outlook

For 2020, MTI revised its outlook to a contraction of 6%-6.5%, narrower than the decline of 5%-7% forecast earlier. It also said the economy shrank less than previously estimated in the three months through September. Gross domestic product declined 5.8% in the third quarter from a year earlier, according to final estimates released by MTI. That was better than the previous estimate of a 7% contraction, and compares with a median forecast of -5.5% in a Bloomberg survey of economists.

Healthier exports and industrial production have led economists, including at Maybank Kim Eng Research Pte Ltd, to upgrade their growth projections for Singapore. The bank had forecast the city-state would post a 5.1% contraction in the final third-quarter estimate, helped especially by pharmaceuticals manufacturing and improvement in real estate, retail trade, and transportation and storage, according to a report last week.

An easing in the virus count in Singapore has given room to policy makers looking to ease restrictions that have hindered business re-openings. The daily number of new cases, including incoming travellers ordered to quarantine, has hovered in single digits for most of the past few weeks.

Singapore officials have said there’s still scope to provide more fiscal stimulus after pledging about S$100 billion ($74 billion) in aid so far this year. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he sees the government running a budget deficit at least through early next year, and perhaps “a while” longer, in order to support ailing consumers and businesses.

On a quarterly basis, the economy grew a non-annualised 9.2% from the previous three months. The data follow the second quarter’s 13.3% plunge from the same period in 2019, which marked a record in data going back to 1990.

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